Baltimore landslide cleanup continues, Mayor vows to get answers

Charles Village residents distraught

BALTIMORE - Baltimore resident Tim Rogers doesn’t know what he’s going to do about his badly damaged car.

“At first — I like geology — so seeing it collapse was like whoa! What's going on here? Then I heard screaming and I thought somebody was getting hurt, then I realized my car was sinking so I got scared about that and panicked and I was trying to figure out exactly what I can do about it and I realized there's nothing,” Rogers said. “And then I just got frustrated and walked away.”

WATCH | Raw video shows 26th Street collapse  

Rogers was describing the shocking landslide in Charles Village that swallowed a light pole, a city block and eight cars – including his own – and brought them crashing down on CSX railroad tracks. He could only watch in dismay Thursday as cleanup crews used excavators to sort through the rubble.

“I really expected that they stabilize the ground, attach a cable and pull the cars out,” Rogers said. “They were all structurally sound, maybe not the ground but mine was on a piece of pavement, a piece of pavement that slid down.

“Insurance doesn't cover it,” he continued. “It's an act of God and that's ridiculous. Isn't that what insurance is there for -- something unexpected that you can't control?”

Rogers, a recent college graduate, said he knows he’ll likely have to go to court to settle on the damages to his car.

“I honestly thought I’d get it back and it’d just be body damage,” Rogers said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

But another game of pinning-the-bill-to-the-responsible-party will soon play out between Baltimore City officials and CSX representatives over liability of the collapse.

In a statement, a CSX spokesman said:

CSX is working with local authorities to support a fast and full recovery from yesterday's embankment collapse. At this time, our focus remains on the safety and well-being of our neighbors, especially those who left their homes, first responders and other agencies, as well as our customers.

Some rerouting is underway where possible, though these efforts will not affect commuter service. There are no passenger services on this line. At this time, we expect customer service to resume as early as this evening. The company will then shift its focus to any backlog of trains.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake echoed CSX's sentiments, pivoting priorities to safety and debris removal.

“We've had a briefing, we spoke to CSX. They are focused on removing the debris and hope to start train service again starting this evening,” Rawlings-Blake said Thursday afternoon. “Our focus is also on making sure we keep the public as safe as possible.”

Crews worked around the clock starting at 5 a.m. and well into Thursday night to clear the rails.

Baltimore safety officials began meeting with residents by 10 a.m. Thursday about the gaping hole left bordering Pastel Row, a line of multi-color row homes along 26th Street at Charles Street.

Some Charles Village residents said they aren’t satisfied and have pestered the Mayor’s Office with complaints about the stability of the road.

READ | Neighbors complained before about 26th Street 

“My anger is that something wasn't done sooner so all of this could have been avoided and it was very [lucky’ that no one was injured,” Sharon Zitzer, a 26th Street resident, said. “I'm very thankful for that but my anger is that we're in this situation because it was a pass the buck between the city and CSX.”

The mayor said the city responded to neighborhood complaints last year with a test of the structural stability of 26th Street. The results of the test showed no structural weaknesses.

“They were wrong. They were wrong. They were wrong,” Jim Zitzer, Sharon’s husband, said.

Rawlings-Blake herself is questioning what happened in the last year since the test was administered to comprise the stability of the block Wednesday afternoon. Residents who live along Pastel Row may be out of their homes for

at least a month, officials said. 

“This citizens hold me accountable. I’m holding my agencies accountable to make sure we make sure what happened. I want to get to the bottom of it just like everyone else,” Rawlings-Blake said.

“This incident crosses what the city owns and what CSX owns,” Rawlings-Blake continued. "It's too early to say who is responsible and who is footing the bill. … We're certainly willing to work with the residents to make sure that if they need help, supportive information to get the claims done that we can help.”

Charles Street will remain closed to traffic until further testing is done. The city will use ground penetrating radar to make sure there are no voids underneath the ground, William Johnson, the Director of the Baltimore City Department of Transportation, said.

“We're going to put in place a sheet pile wall to shore up the area where the neighborhood exists and to prevent any further deterioration,” he added.

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